Monday, October 8, 2012

Big News Redesign

Remember when the focus of news was news?  Well, news may not be enough when you have competition.
  Three major news outlets seem to have redesigned their websites.  CBS seems to be chasing the "blog" look - lots of short snippets, with pictures of course, and links for commenting and posting prominently featured.  The push for social (or perhaps for relevance) on the main page includes blocks of the "most popular," "most shared," and "most commented" stories.  The site included a mix of stories from various CBS news-type outlets.
  The individual story pages shared the same black on white layout, but the story text was a little larger and easier to read. The individual story page had an "Around the Web" block of story links on websites - but you have to look at the "What's this" pop-up to learn that most are paid or sponsored links.
  The tech side (or my office computer) had some hiccups, as I wasn't able to play the "tour the new site" video.

ABC gave its flagship "World News" program an "extreme makeover" with the Oct. 1 newscast.  The change started with new theme music, a refurbished set, and a slough of new graphics (new open, bumpers, and headline crawls at the bottom).  The anchor desk is wider, so that it can accommodate more people.  While they tweaked the anchor desk, there was more extensive work on the background "working" newsroom.
  That now features a lowered anchor desk so that more of the widescreen monitor wall is visible, as well as the twin columns of monitors on one side.  I haven't been to the ABCNews website in a while, but it's not looking good - at least from a news content.  The design's clean, but for a TV news organization there's a lot of text "teasers," a few pictures, and only a few links to videos.  The site's not as social media heavy as CBS's, but it has the links and a block of "ABC News on Facebook."

The real shocker for me was USA Today's new look.  Last month Gannett launched a redesigned USA Today newspaper  Again, it's not one I subscribe to, but the layout and design is a real break from the iconic newspaper look.  The block USA Today header is replaced by a piechart-like graphic, new sections were added, and the whole paper features more color (almost twice as many pages printed in color).
  Plus the almost obligatory front page ad in the bottom right corner. 
The reveal of the new print layout and design was followed by a new look and design for the USA Today online news site.  The web design carries through some of the same graphics, but places much more focus on visual elements.  In their own story on the new-look website, they emphasized that a key element in the new design is its ability to reformat to different screen sizes and resolutions -
"The look and functionality of all digital platforms — the website, tablet app, new Facebook app and new mobile apps — also have been overhauled to facilitate bigger images and graphic-driven stories while presenting them in “a fun, engaging” way, the company says.
The web and tablet platform will also feature live video coverage, interactive weather mapping and more instant analysis and commentary. New user-control features will make customizing the pages easier for consumers."

  The redesigned USA Today website that takes the graphics-heavy look almost to the extreme.  If the CBS redesign arguably pushed towards more non-professional, social media look, then I'd say the new USAToday website is a mix of Flipboard and Pinterest. - chunky blocks dominated by visuals.  More eye candy than food for the mind and soul.
   A lot of comments from the graphics/design folks are positive - each of the redesigns places a focus on cleaning up, or freshening the visual look, but to differing degrees.  The feedback and comments from journalists and heavy users of online news is not so positive - many feel that the new looks all "dumb down" the news aspect. While the designs may work at attracting casual readers/viewers, they do so at the expense of providing informative news in an easily accessible form.
  My wandering of the new news sites shows very little in the way of providing links or access to more information, or alternative perspectives.  The sites are primarily walled gardens, linking to themselves, affiliated sites within the corporate family, and, of course, advertisers.  Some (but not many) stories have links to other stories within the affiliated sites, but I didn't note any links to source materials, archives or alternative perspectives (outside of comments).  In an interview, Gannett's Chief Digital Officer David Payne, confirmed that the redesign was driven more by marketing goals than providing a better news product.
"I was pissed off and frustrated about how news sites had not evolved," Mr. Payne, former GM of, said of the radical changes. "In a utopian world, we start migrating out of little boxes and really take advantage of the power of these things (he said pointing to his laptop). These are much more powerful than televisions."
The new design was driven largely by a desire to give advertisers a new type of digital canvas with which to work.
Mr. Kramer (USA Today's president and publisher) is also pushing for changes in how his journalists gather and publish news. In the past, USA Today has often pushed out a quick breaking-news story or wire story for big news events, and then the next story on the subject would wait for the print paper. Now, he wants reporters to fill the gap on the web between those two types of stories.
Kramer also indicated that USA Today is pushing some of its journalists to let more of their personal voice shine through in their writing, rather than the "stripped-down, just-the-facts prose" that was the hallmark of the USA Today of yore.

  Keep this in mind the next time the big news organizations try to brand themselves as being all about providing news and information. The goal is to produce stories to attract consumers so they can sell advertising - not to be the conveyors of news and information that contributes to an informed electorate or enlightened public.

Sources - redesigns, NewscastStudio blog
ABC's "World News" gets a makeover, Broadcast Engineering
In USA Today Redesign, Hope for a New Canvas for Web AdvertisersAdvertising Age
A closer look at the hints we've seen of the new USA Today redesign, Charles Apple - The Visual Side of Journalism blog, American Copy Editors Society

1 comment:

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